Friday, July 5, 2013

Sylvester Rychlyj, My Founding Father

Sylvester Rychlyj outside St Michael's Church, 1940

Ninety-nine years ago, on July 4, 1914, my grandmother, Pauline Rychlyj arrived in Minneapolis, MN, the last stop on her journey from Bila, Ternopil', Ukraine.  She was accompanied by her aunt and uncle, Constantine (Stanley) Rychlyj and Maria Bilan Rychlyj and their daughter Jenny. New York Harbor was crowded with steamships the day their ship arrived, so they were processed at Castle Garden instead of Ellis Island.  They left New York on a train for Minnesota and arrived on July 4.  What a day to arrive at their new home!

This story isn't about my grandmother, or her aunt and uncle, it is about  my great-grandfather Sylvester Rychly,j the person I consider my founding ancestor.  Sylvester first came to the United States in 1908 and settled in Tower City, PA.  According to his immigration documents, Sylvester was an agricultural worker, and his contact person in the United States was Wasyl Boyko, listed as his brother-in-law.  Wasyl is a mystery, since I can find no Boykos in the Rychlyj family.  My guess is that he and his wife were friends from the village, perhaps cousins.  Sylvester left Tower City for Ukraine in 1910 because his wife Maria was very ill. When she recovered, he returned to Pennsylvania in November 1910, with his brother Constantine. This time Sylvester was listed as an non-immigrant alien.

Eventually Sylvester moved to Minneapolis, and brought his wife and seven of his 8 children to this country.  The first child to come was Anna, followed by Pauline.  World War I intervened, and the rest of the family came in 1922, 1924 and 1926.  This in itself was an amazing feat, since the average immigrant laborer earned about $1.00 per day, and had to work for about a year to pay the fare of one person to come to the USA. Why did he invest so much time and money  bringing his family to the United States?  My grandmother Pauline said that he didn't want his children to have a life with no opportunities to better themselves.  In the old country, poor people stayed poor, they worked very hard to feed and clothe their children.  Children worked at young ages and schools taught only the basics.  He knew that he could provide a better life for his children in the United States.

Sylvester did more than bring his family to this country.  Although he had an accident at work and lost his hand, he continued working.  He bought two houses in Minneapolis in 1924.  He was a founder of two churches, St Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church, and later, St Michael's Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  He also served as the first president of St Michael's. 

When he lived in Europe, he played the violin for events in the village, after his accident, he could no longer play, so he sang.  He served as the Choir director for many years at St Michael's, and also as a Diak (cantor). He was a member of the Ukrainian Folk Choir in Minneapolis, which performed all over the Twin Cities area. 

Sylvester helped his children to get settled in this country, providing them a place to live when they arrived and later helping them to purchase homes of their own.  Several of his children and grandchildren lived in the same neighborhood in southeast Minneapolis, around Como Ave. After the death of his wife, Maria, his life was devoted to his family, his church and to the Ukrainian community of Minneapolis.  His descendants live all over the United States.  He died in 1944 of cancer. I was born in 1946, so I never met him, but I am proud to be one of his  descendants, and his great-granddaughter.

Sylvester (seated) with daughters Pauline (bride) and Anna, 1916
Sylvester with daughters Katherine and Ksenia in 1935